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Montreal-area community groups work to help minorities navigate COVID-19 crisis

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WATCH: Language and cultural barriers are making it difficult for some Montrealers to understand what is going on during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Global's Phil Carpenter explains, some community groups have taken a novel approach to get the word out. – Apr 27, 2020

Community groups have started an initiative to make sure Montreal populations who are isolated because of language and culture, get the information they need about the pandemic.

The Côte-des-Neiges Community Development Corporation decided to broadcast the information via loudspeakers from a van, targeting the more densely populated areas of the area.

Messages are delivered in up to 13 different languages, explained Dina Husseini, a community organizer with the group.

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“So we have French and English, we have Yiddish, Spanish, Créole, Arabic, Urdu, Tamil, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Chinese-speaking — that is, Cantonese — we have Farsi and Russian language,” she said.

The Côte-des-Neiges/NDG borough is one of three boroughs with the most COVID-19 cases and Côte-des-Neiges is one of the most densely populated and diverse in the city.  According to Husseini, many residents speak neither English nor French.

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“There’s many people that are asking us to help them because they don’t understand what is happening right now,” she pointed out.

Monday was the truck’s second time in Côte-des-Neiges but the first area to start this kind of broadcast was Montreal North seven weeks ago.

According to Quebec health authorities, it’s the borough that is hardest hit by the coronavirus with over 1,100 cases.

“In Montreal North we have a lot of community contagion, we have a lot of neighbourhoods that are really dense,” explained Bochra Manai, executive director of Parole d’excluEs, a community group in the area.

Manai, who helped spearhead the Montreal North project, pointed out that in both communities, there’s also so-called digital fracture.

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“It’s like people sometimes don’t have phone, don’t have internet,” she said.

For that same reason, other community workers stress that while this initiative is a positive one, it’s only the start.  She wants governments to step up.

“Knowing about something and being able to have it and benefit from it is a different thing,” noted Margaret van Nooten, a social rights worker at Project Genesis.

“Often the number of barriers there could be between those could almost be insurmountable, or insurmountable in some cases.”

She added that it’s especially hard for low-income people and some immigrants.

Manai said their are plans to use vans to broadcast messages in both Saint-Michel and Rivière-des-Prairies.